Kingdom prove too strong for Down as the Ardsmen fall short in Joe McDonagh Cup opener in Tralee
Joe McDonagh Cup Group B: Kerry 2-24 Down 1-21
KERRY set themselves up as favourites to reach the Joe McDonagh Cup final for the second successive year with a deserved six-point win over a dogged Down outfit in their opening group game, played in ideal conditions at the Austin Stack Park on Saturday.
Kerry boss Fintan O’Connor admitted to being both delighted and relieved afterwards.
“Down are after having a really good League. They’re a really good team in fairness to them so we were just delighted to get a win," he said.
"In a group of three you just want to win your first game. Look, it was as real Championship game, a real Championship feel to it and the lads did some really good things at times.”
Kerry began well and raced 0-5 to 0-1 in the opening 10 minutes with Mikey Boyle proving a handful for the Down defence with Shane Nolan and Barry Mahony spraying some accurate ball to a lively Kerry attack. Shane Conway fired over three points while Mikey Boyle hit a superb effort from long range, with Shane Nolan converting a free from his own half.
Paul Sheehan opened Down's account from a free after a foul on Daithí Sands.
Down roared into the contest with Donal Hughes to the fore another Paul Sheehan free before disaster for the home side when a long ball from Sheehan saw Kerry keeper John B O’Halloran being caught in no man’s land and Pearse Óg McCrickard nipped in to score an opportunist goal. Sheehan gave Down the lead in the 14th minute but two excellent Mikey Boyle points had Kerry back on track as the sides were tied 0-7 to 1-4 at the water break.
Kerry got the crucial goal in the 31st minute when Nolan fed Cian Hussey who should never have been allowed get past two defenders and he blasted the ball to Down net to give Kerry a 1-14 to 1-8 half time cushion.
After Eoghan Sands closed the gap on the restart, three unanswered points from Barry Mahony, Nolan and Shane Conway saw Kerry move 1-17 to1-9 clear but then Down fought back as Kerry appeared to lose their grip and a succession of points from Ryan McCusker, Donal Hughes and McManus free saw Down reduce the deficit to five (1-20 to 1-15) at the water break.
Then crucially Down missed three scoring chances on resumption two wides and a scoreable free into the Kerry’s keepers hands from McManus who closed the gap to four from a free in 57th minute.
But the tie was decided in the 58th minute by a piece of Conway magic. Jason Diggins sent over a cross that Shane Conway ran onto and once he was one on one with Down keeper Stephen Keith, a goal was inevitable and that saw Kerry ease to a deserved victory despite some late frees from Oisin McManus.
Down now face a must-win game against Meath next weekend before watching on hoping Meath can do them a favour the following weekend when they welcome Kerry to Navan.
KERRY: JB O’Halloran; J O’Connor, E Murphy, E Leen; C O’Keeffe, F Mackessy, J Diggins; P O’Connor, S Nolan (0-4, 0-1 free) ; M Boyle (0-4), B Mahony ( 0-3), B O’Leary; P Boyle (0-4) , S Conway (1-8, 0-4 frees, 0-1 65), C Hussey (1-0) .
Subs: T O’Connor for J O’Connor (22), B Murphy for B O’Leary (66), D Hunt for C Hussey (69), F O’Sullivan (0-1) for M Boyle (60), E Ross for E Leen (70)
DOWN: S Keith; C Cassidy, C Taggart, J McManus; M Conlon, C Woods (0-1 65) , L Savage; D Hughes (0-2) , J Doran; C Egan, P Sheehan (0-5, 0-4 frees) , M Fisher; P Óg McCrickard (1-3) , E Sands (0-1) , D Sands ( 0-2).
Subs: R McCusker ( 0-1) for M Fisher (h-t), T Prenter ( 0-1) for J Doran (46), P Savage (0-1) for C Egan (44), O McManus (0-4 frees) for P Sheehan (50), P J Davidson for D Hughes (70+2)
Referee: C McAllister (Cork)